Combating alcohol with CBD
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) estimates that 17.6 million Americans suffer from some degree of alcohol abuse. That’s about 1 in every 12 U.S adults. A scary statistic, no matter how it’s interpreted.
What’s perhaps even scarier, though, are the health risks that can potentially arise for those wishing to curb their addiction; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) attributes over 88,000 deaths each year to complications stemming from alcohol withdrawal, and suggests that several hundred thousand more are left dealing with serious side effects such as seizures, hallucinations, anxiety, and severe nausea, just to name a few.
This is why alcoholism, at its worst, can feel a near-impossible addiction to try and overcome.
In light of new research and increased federal funding on cannabis, however, thousands upon thousands of people are finding legitimate relief in the form of CBD oil for alcoholism. For years it was thought that whole-plant cannabis (i.e. smoking marijuana) held therapeutic measures in regard to helping curb addictions, but recent studies have shown that one cannabinoid in particular – cannabidiol – plays a crucial role when it comes to mollifying the neurological and physiological components of alcohol addiction and reliance.
It is important to note the functional differences between CBD oil and “whole plant marijuana”. Behind THC, CBD (cannabidiol) is the second-most prevalent cannabinoid in cannabis. Thus, when an individual smokes a joint, not only do they get the therapeutic effects of CBD, they also get the intense psychoactive effects of THC — the ingredient that gets them high.
CBD oil, then, is simply an isolated form of cannabidiol; marijuana without the high, so to speak. It provides all of the medical components and therapeutic benefits of cannabis, without the (often-times) unwanted effect of getting stoned.
In this article, we’ll touch on what exactly alcoholism is, what its symptoms of withdrawal are, and what CBD oil does to help minimize – and even eliminate – the appearance of symptoms altogether.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and alcohol withdrawal are all mutually exclusive terms with significant differences in both meaning and implication.
The term alcohol abuse refers to a pattern of drinking in which the individual’s personal lifestyle is negatively affected by consumption, whether that be in the form of relationships, family life, or professional work habits. This could imply one heavy night out drinking in which case a person has to call off work the next day, or it could refer to much more serious cases in which the patterns of abuse are manifested on a near day to day basis.
Alcoholism, on the other hand, is the full-blown manifestation of alcohol abuse; it is defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine as a “primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors [that influence] its development.”
The disease, often fatal, is characterized by any one of the following symptoms: A preoccupation with alcohol as a drug, a habitual inability to control drinking levels, a distortion in cognitive processes regarding consumption (i.e. denial), and the continued abuse of alcohol in spite of ‘adverse consequences’.
Additionally, alcoholics will display a complete and total reliance on the drug, in which case their day to day lives become “unmanageable” without the physiological and psychological effects of drinking.
What’s perhaps most frightening, however, is the notion that alcoholism (and/or any other form of addiction) is fueled by the satisfaction of “brain reward”. This means that an alcoholic’s sense of motivation and well-being – whether social, biological, or emotional – can only be achieved through excessive drinking habits.
Once the physiological effects of full-blown alcoholism become manifested in an individual, quitting the drug can present an array of serious biological and emotional side effects.
Alcohol Withdrawal: What is it, and what are some conventional treatment methods?
The exact symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are wide-ranging and can vary significantly from individual to individual. Most commonly, victims experience a general sense of nervousness, insomnia/restlessness, anxiety, nausea, and irritability. In more advanced stages, increased heart rate, tremors, seizures, disorientation, and even hallucinations can become common.
Of course, any one of these symptoms may (and often do) warrant the seeking of professional medical attention. Over a longer-term scale, chronic diseases such as cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and liver disease may develop in severe abusers, in addition to the onset of various forms of cancer and kidney disease.
As far as treatment, one of the most common and effective measures is to be admitted into a detox center. In these facilities, victims receive all the levels of support – both emotionally and medically – that are needed in order to make the successful transition to an alcohol-free life (in terms of ‘medical support’, prescription drugs are often given to help with the onset of anxiety, pain, nausea, and loss of appetite).
Due to financial, personal, or professional reasons, though, many people find treatment facilities to be impractical, which is one of the reasons why CBD oil for alcoholism is gaining such a reputation; it’s far cheaper than prescription medications and/or admittance into a treatment facility, and it allows individuals to largely self-medicate with a specific oil that is appropriate for them and their unique condition.
CBD Oil for Alcoholism: How Cannabis Alleviates the Emotional and Biological Effects of Withdrawal
In order to understand how cannabidiol (CBD) works to alleviate the effects of addiction and subsequent withdrawal, we need to first understand how alcohol itself functions to develop and implement a neurological basis of reliance.
In short, alcohol addiction affects the neurotransmission capabilities of ‘reward structures’ within the brain; most notably, structures such as the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, basal forebrain, and anterior cingulate cortex.
In healthy individuals (i.e. non-alcohol abusers), these structures play a functional role in implementing normal “self-care” behavior; that is, if we’re unhappy or unsatisfied, they let us know that a behavioral change is probably in order.
In the case of alcohol abusers, this requisite behavioral change is entirely bypassed by the consumption of alcohol, wherein the brain’s reward structures are “overridden” in order to supplant the desired feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
On a side note, this is the main reason why alcoholism presents such a slippery slope in terms of its progression as a disease; individuals don’t want to acknowledge the reward structures in their brains telling them to change their behavior, so instead, they drink. And the more alcohol they drink, the more unhappy they become, thus the more they feel they need to drink, and so on and so forth.
In any manner, what’s phenomenal about all of this as it relates to cannabis is that all of these aforementioned ‘reward structures’ in the brain – the amygdala, basal forebrain, etc – are manipulated in large part by naturally-occurring endocannabinoids in the body’s central nervous system. These endocannabinoids (most notably the CB-1 receptor) play a crucial functional role in, amongst other things, helping to implement feelings of reward, satisfaction, and overall well-being.
But what effect does the consumption of alcohol have on the abundance and availability of CB-1 receptors in the brain? Not a good one, as it turns out.
In a 2014 study that measured the abundance of CB-1 receptors in abusive (alcoholic) and non-abusive (social) drinkers, researchers found a severely diminished prevalence of CB-1 in alcoholics, even after prolonged periods of abstinence. This contrasted sharply with a healthy presence of the receptor among social drinkers after the same period of abstinence. Additionally, the study also showed an immediate decline in CB-1 prevalence upon the injection of alcohol into the bloodstream.
What this means, essentially, is that consuming alcohol directly bypasses the normal physiological mechanisms responsible for “reward behavior”; that is, the natural functional role of endocannabinoids is supplanted in regard to their ability to communicate with the brain’s reward structures. And most worryingly, of course, is the fact that in the case of long-term abusers (i.e. alcoholics), the prevalence of endocannabinoids appears to disappear altogether.
CBD for Alcoholism: What the studies are showing
From a physiological standpoint, one of the hardest parts of giving up alcohol is the fact that, without the presence of endocannabinoids, the body no longer has a natural mechanism to cope with everyday things like stress and anxiety. This, more often than not, is when the overwhelming biological and psychological symptoms of withdrawal come into play.
However, this is also when the therapeutic effects of CBD come into play; the drug acts as a natural “replenishment” to the body’s depleted supply of endocannabinoids, which had been veritably wiped out over the course of long-term alcohol abuse and reliance.
It also serves to diminish insatiable cravings for alcohol throughout the process of detox, as it provides a natural mechanism for the body to respond to “reward stimuli”.
In terms of research, as is the case with most forms of medical cannabis, more studies will need to be carried out in order for CBD to become a conventional treatment option for alcoholism and/or other forms of abuse and addiction in the future.
That being said, though, due to recent increases in federal funding, new studies are beginning to pop up here and there, which are providing the all-important empirical data necessary for the drug to become established as a widescale medical treatment option.
In 2015, for example, researchers published a peer-reviewed article in Substance Abuse that identified CBD’s ability to function as a modulator for several of the neuronal circuits that were disrupted over the course of long-term addiction, recognizing its ability to provide a “stand-in” mechanism for the brain’s reward structures to communicate in the absence of naturally-occurring endocannabinoids. A bit academic-sounding, but a pretty astonishing discovery to say the least.
In 2018, Gonzalez-Cuevas and colleagues conducted an animal study to evaluate the “anti-relapse potential of a transdermal CBD preparation in relation to drug seeking, anxiety, and impulsivity.” In their study, Gonzalez-Cuevas et al. used rats with histories of alcohol and cocaine self-administration. As part of the study, these rats were given transdermal CBD at 24-hour intervals for a period of seven days and then tested for “context and stress-induced reinstatement, as well as experimental anxiety.”
The results of the study were very promising. Gonzalez-Cuevas et al. found that CBD attenuated – i.e. reduced – both “context-induced and stress-induced drug seeking without tolerance, sedative effects, or interference with normal motivated behavior.” The researchers also found that even after the treatment was terminated, reinstatement (in the rats used in the study) remained attenuated up to five months later, despite plasma and CBD levels only being detectable for three days after the study.
Other significant findings from the study included the fact that CBD brought about a reduction in experimental anxiety and also “prevented the development of high impulsivity in rats with an alcohol dependence history.” Gonzalez-Cuevas et al. believe that their study provides a “proof of principle” that CBD is useful for relapse prevention in two particular dimensions, it facilitates “beneficial actions across several vulnerability states” and produces “long-lasting effects with only brief treatment.”
As Gonzalez-Cuevas et al. put it, their findings also help to “inform the ongoing medical marijuana debate concerning medical benefits of non-psychoactive cannabinoids and their promise for development and use as therapeutics.” However, clearly more human studies need to be conducted to determine if the findings from these animal studies are as significant as they initially appear.
In 2019, Turna and colleagues carried out a systematic review of the existing literature “to evaluate the credibility of CBD as a candidate pharmacotherapy for alcohol use disorder (AUD).” Turna et al. looked at 303 different articles on the subject and found that only 12 met the criteria for their systematic review. Of these 12 articles, eight were studies using rodent models, and only three included healthy adult volunteers, while the other was a study which used a cell culture.
In the studies which used rodent models, as well as the study that used a cell culture, CBD was found to “exert a neuroprotective effect against adverse alcohol consequences on the hippocampus.” Interestingly, CBD was also shown to attenuate alcohol-induced hepatoxicity (alcohol-induced liver damage), and more specifically, alcohol-induced steatosis,” (abnormal and harmful retention of lipids in the liver) in rodent models.
From their systematic review of the literature, Turna et al. concluded that the research carried out on rodent models indicated that CBD “attenuates cue-elicited and stress-elicited alcohol seeking, alcohol self-administration, withdrawal-induced convulsions, and impulsive discounting of delayed rewards.” Turna et al. also noted that in the human studies, CBD was “well tolerated and did not interact with the subjective effects of alcohol.”
Final Thoughts CBD Oils for Alcoholism
So far, the findings from animal studies in particular, as Turna and colleagues have concluded, point towards CBD having promise as a potential pharmacotherapy for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). As well as the many positive findings regarding the use of CBD in these studies, it has also been noted that cannabidiol has been well tolerated in human studies. CBD’s tolerability, coupled with the absence of abuse liability, further enhance the prospect of CBD being used as a treatment for AUD in the future.
After carrying out their systematic review of the literature on the subject, Turna et al. concluded that:
“A clear limitation to the literature is the paucity of human investigations. Human preclinical and clinical studies are needed to determine whether these positive effects in model systems substantively translate into clinically relevant outcomes.”
Here’s a list of several CBD oils that are known to help treat a variety of medical conditions:
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